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Roshambomb, "The Sentient Library"

[Location] Japan - Fringe Territory - 84:90:203:2031 WST

1) @Je55ica paused outside the dented metal door tattered with band posters situated next to a commercial dumpster in a humid alley. Pitch black night except for a flickering LED hover lamp. City services have given up on this part of town, too dangerous. Her glasses dimly flash her eyes with a radar-overlaid map and a countdown timer. She had tracked the sentient here through black market connections and would have some favors to pay for the privilege but she was so close now that the worry faded behind, another problem for another day. She rubbed the hinges with graphite, cracked the e-lock with a drive-by text and slipped inside quietly.

2) Sliding behind a stack of shipping pallets, she rolls a Circon Drone marble out toward the middle of the immense room, its silicone surface, almost frictionless, sending out a library shush as it swerves around obstacles, the internal gyroscope switching balance with nanosecond precision. Using an internal laser to build a topological graph of the warehouse, bits and pieces float back via Qry-Fi to her glasses, pinging statistical anomalies in the structure. A Torquebot sits sentry, silently waiting. Waiting for its sensors to trigger, poised to fulfill its greater purpose.

3) Circon Drone reports back weaknesses in the power structure of the internal network which are quickly diffused with a few discs from her InterCon SlingDisc. The Torquebot's scanning laser falls dormant with the defeated sound of its generator slowing to a halt. Miniature clouds of dust puff up from her heels as she sprints to the steel walkway that leads up to the manager's office, hanging from the composite support beams about forty feet above the warehouse floor. The only sound is the whisper of her TreadLights caressing the metal.

4) The office appears empty so she slips through the cracked door and snaps a gloLight, casting a soft focus camera lens on its contents. A desk littered with digital photo frames, black and glossy without Elec, a stylus lying on top of a scattered pile of memCards and a stained coffee mug. The Mando dock is empty, theft-protection arms askew; vibrating faster than her visual augment can track. She can smell the burn from the Dalmik incisors. This was no Zed job, she saves, I'm tailing a professional.

[Location] China-India DMZ - Scraper Region - 12:71:209:2031 WST

5) Rain is so heavy, it pours in a sheet over the edge of @Je55ica's nanofiber SatGat held cinched under her chin with a Keroppi pendant. She bought it from a local vendor who tried desperately to sell her an ecchi cosplay outfit. He'd begged in broken Korsperanto for her to try it on, prodding her toward the 3d scanner repeatedly. Proper application of the demure titter finally convinced the shopkeeper that she was KWP and he left her alone after that. It had been a long flight and forcing that act had been the last straw. She fell into bed with a pre-paid pod cert for 12 hours and drifted off.

6) The skittered dreams came fast and furious until she awoke drenched with the pod's thermostatic controls kicked to a frenetic pace, cycling on and off, torn between saving the slumlord pod hotel owner from a higher Elec bill while still fulfilling the pod hotel pledge of customer satisfaction. In her early morning delirium, she couldn't remember exactly where she was but realized she was in a pod and so instinctively relaxed, knowing that the biometric locks had never been hacked, thanks to the ingenious algorithm of a now famous graduate student from the Norwegian Polytechnic Institute. Within a moment this fleeting level of consciousness left and her plunge into darkness resumed.

7) When the sublim augment started to tickle, she had already been awake a few and dismissed it reflexively. The external pod environment had already switched to mid-day and the maintbots were collecting last night's soju bottles from the pods and sucking the sheets out for laundering. Several pods had already been closed and locked for the autoclave treatment and the AutoContinental breakfast machine was ticking down, 92:31 till the end of auto serving. Punching "SuperBacon Eggwich" harder than necessary made her feel better but not by much.

8) Santoku Street didn't seem that sharp this early in the morning, fuzzy if anything. Maybe it was the fourteen hour flight that had her red-eyed. Perhaps the number of in-flight movies that she'd had the unfortunate opportunity to watch without stims. She couldn't fall asleep the entire way over. Japanese outlying territories had been experiencing a high degree of emigration lately and there were lots of kids on the plane. She felt for them but it sure made it hard to doze off.

9) The noodle shop on her GPS was pinned at the top floor but she finally found it six stories below, on the ground floor, surrounded by 24-hour pawn and loan automats. The gate was pulled down but hadn't been locked yet so she lifted it and was rewarded with a satisfying rollercoaster sound. She ducked under and noticed the automated defense system whirring into action, pulling in and repositioning turret plates in a single resolute action.

10) Diving out, she rolled behind a Beer vending machine and felt multiple 10mm rounds sink into the front chassis, releasing cans of OB, Hite and Sinkiang Black from their CO2 bondage. Jets of liquid sprung from the case like a Vegas fountain. The zing of projectiles reminds her of the urgency of her number one task, surviving long enough to complete now demoted task number two.

11) In the dwelling behind the store, two cowering girls were hugging their knees on a mat to the left. She's scared them. Feels terrible about it but has to move on. No time to console them now. It's a hard, confusing world and they already know it. No need to rub it in by acknowledging it. She dives headlong through the window into the courtyard so quickly that she knows she won’t remember their faces later.

12) At the summit, the pawns are all configured to play now. The table has been set, two glasses of water placed to the right and left in an act of tradition, not necessity. A clock with two faces sits between two machines, two autonomous beings. Neither is terribly preoccupied with time. Neither need the breaks that lesser beings might need to contemplate such a battle. They are immortal in their quickness. The speed at which they think is infinite to us and yet they take a long while to ponder. They lock cycle rates and start to compute.

13) In the silent dry heat of the massive processors, she sets out augment sensors, her vision undulating like imagined water in an unusually dry desert as the sentients bear down and consume the maximum watts that their grids can handle sans meltdown. Each sensor chip, as kin to the sand it settles on, takes its place in the environment and sets up a dark Qry-Fi connection to the nodes nearest to it. The specs of intelligence are spread thinly, hiding among the dust on the floor and appearing native to all but the keenest observer.

14) Now @Je55ica monitors the scraper by capturing packets of data through her augment sensor network. The network connection won't last long. Even with genetic encryption, the dark Qry-Fi network is going to get detected by their sensors. It's just a matter of when. The podcast chatter that she's pulling from the packet stream, as scratchy and jitted as it is, seems to triangulate on the SingSong Land Complex. Only within a 10 kilometer radius though. It's going to be on foot, close quarters, and improvisational.

15) 64 floors up without incident. The echoes float through the vertical corridor without telling her where she is. Her sonar can't make sense of all the transient frequencies so @Je55ica keeps count at each turn, letting math occupy her mind more than the abstraction currently printed out in flickering gray on her headset. The altimeter still blinks up but the readings at the noodle shop don't give her much confidence.

16) 147 floors up, only one Plebe, an unfortunate casualty. He should have stayed at home, or at least not joined the sentient quest to destabilize humanity, which was an absurd notion unless you were expansive enough to try it. As MI5 posited a few years before the collapse of the United Kingdom, modern civilization is "only four meals away from anarchy" and by permanently disrupting the commerce stream, the sentients had been trying to make it a reality.

17) Floor 438, the elevator slows. The last thing she sees is a prism, glittering in the light of two suns, showering three walls with multi-phased, colored, and beautifully concentrated light. Her augments go as dark as a Douglas Adam's joke about peril sensitivity to protect her eyes from the vision-induced virus hack. The upload was dampened at 62 percent with just milliseconds to spare. She thought up a parallax routine to run on the retinal filters, spawned a process and slowly the penthouse suite faded back into view.

18) The suite was refined with a level of opulence that only multi-nationals had the wealth to realize. Concrete, glass, and alloy. Everything was too clean, as in a Real-D rendering, no dirt in the corners. She felt as if she had just crossed over into an uncanny valley and Masahiro Mori's critics were whispering denials quietly but insistently. A muted but throbbing bass driven flugelhorn ensemble emanated from the soffits. Early 20th century by the sound of it. The security laser that had tried to take her out continued its sweep of the room dispassionately.

19) Knowing that the auto-infect virus was not the last of her worries, she moved quickly from the elevator, around the motionless wave pool framed by 8-bit Moroccan tile, past the robotic wet bar that held vintage bottles of defunct liquors suspended upside down and over a nanofabric couch that surrounded a touch table gaming rig. No defenses triggered yet and that made her as nervous as she ever felt. Her hand poised for a moment over the button that would bring the lift to the private level of the penthouse. Well, never a time like the present, she thought, and punched it.

20) The reverseU bots began to crawl from every hidden nook and cranny of the room as soon as she touched the lift's remote. Her augment lit up like the controls of an Elec plant on meltdown. She slipped a disc, dove to the side and fired, catching her shoulder on a planter with orchids swooning one way and the other, hit the floor hard and staggered to her feet seeing stars. Warning: Too many! Danger: Flee! Her augments crackled like a cable dropped in water. Memories and the present began to short-circuit together and reality became translucent.

21) Sliding prone to avoid falling, @Je55ica lies still at the mercy of her augments and the terrible pressure that the external forces maintain, yet always searching. Sending out feelers, tendons into twixil systems, ligaments pulling at automated firewalls, testing the boundaries and uprooting preconceptions, she silently creeps into uncharted encryption. All seems lost even though the goal remains clear in her mind.

[Location] Brazil - Oil Field R, Shanty Town H - 32:21:215:2031 WST

22) A single beam of light casts its way through a gash in the corrugated tin. She had never been able to afford smell augments and her first thought as she regained consciousness was that she would have gladly skipped that impulsive vacation in the Arctic to be able to filter out the stench that assaulted her now. Murmurs from the next room convinced her that she was not alone. It sounded like there were at least two live ones and at least one sentient. Always difficult to tell for sure. Manufacturing law stated that all sentients carried the same voice.

23) The most familiar voice in the world, that of a sentient, drifted to her in the next room. Luckily her hearing augments were physical upgrades; otherwise their augment jammer would be blocking all aural activity. Everyone had thought that robots would achieve consciousness and revolt against humanity. Everyone had been wrong. Artificial intelligence had simply grown to a point where certain humans, bereft of conscience, could utilize it for their own purposes by using the sentients to augment their own intelligence. It simply made deviants into deviant geniuses.

24) As advisors, the sentients had allowed those that could afford them to be virtually omniscient, which wielded great power. Knowing every opponent's move before they made it relegated coups to a thing of the past and their power had grown unchecked as they accumulated massive wealth, the true measure of power. The knowledge of likely outcomes and the ability to fund counter-actions made them invulnerable and nearly unstoppable as they maneuvered toward their strategic goals.

25) Stripped of her augments, weapons and clothes, she had never felt more without hope. Everything that she had worked for was truly in jeopardy now. They knew why she had infiltrated the China-India DMZ and with their privileged access to the global net they would be able to easily connect the dots. You had to store data somewhere accessible and her animal-based DNA encryption algorithms wouldn't hold forever.

26) Every augment sensor node she had ever left behind was still where she had let it lay, waiting for its Qry-Fi to be disassembled, the codes studied in detail, cross-referenced with known encryption techniques, her search providers subpoenaed, find the animal DNA research, put two and two together. Toss a superCluster at it. Easy-peasy. She could do it and so she knew they could too. It was just a matter of time.

27) She pulled up her head and realized that she wasn't bound. They didn't need to obviously; she couldn't use public transit, rent a flat, buy food or even get a drink of water with her credit module inactivated. There was certainly no point in running. She stood up and paced the walls of the room with her left hand and noticed the subsonic hum of dePhazers. They knew she couldn't run and yet they were covering their asses anyway. You see someone dePhazed once, see the brutal agony that it induces and even manic-depressives choose another suicide method.

28) Lying back on the cot, she fell asleep, realizing that her stasis was irremediable. The only thing to do now was wait and dream of all the cracks that their defense might contain. Her training put her to sleep in minutes and even without augment, blueprints, dossiers and statistics began to float by in dreamy soft focus cover flow.

29) It was night, dark as the evilest Goth life track playing back in Real-D, when she was awoken and gently escorted by cold hands out of the room and into a four point rack spread out inside a hyperbaric bubble. This was not good. She flicked her eyes back and forth, taking in what she could see in the ultraviolet lighting. It allowed the sentients to communicate at an extremely high rate of speed using LEDs but it decreased her visual ability too much. Without an augment filter, she felt useless.

30) Two sentients flicked messages back and forth to each other, their frequency as a dog to a human. She felt flashes against her eyes and realized that they were transferring terabytes of information back and forth, transmitting all that she could read in a lifetime in nanoseconds. Her understanding of the level on which the sentients operated made her feel even more insignificant. Still, it oddly comforted her, not understanding what was being said made her feel like an outsider, a role that she knew well.

31) Time melted away as the hyperbaric bubble cut off any sensation from the real world and the rack began to turn her inside out with X-ray computed tomography, electroencephalography and more invasive tests - venipuncture and other assorted less mentionable invasive probes. The most ardent conspiracy theorists couldn't have come up with this treatment and yet it goes on and on and on and on...

[Location] Austin, Texas - Music District - 13:96:235:2031 WST

32) @Barbacoa used to think he couldn't stomach Mexican food. It made him uneasy, unsure of his footing, visually confused, short of breath and weak. It was so bad that at one point he'd convinced himself to contact a doctor to confirm that he wasn't allergic to jalapeno peppers. It had turned out that cilantro was to blame but he'd never had trouble with Asian or Indian food. One case of anaphylactic shock is enough to change your ways though, so pico de gallo dropped off his personal menu.

33) A plate of gluten-free al dente noodles with a parmesan cream sauce sat in front of him now, it was Italian night. His display glasses were fogging up from the steam that wafted up from the dish. Lots of chatter had been piling across socialNet about a deep hack of sentientBase, the caching cloud for the sentients. He'd been using the unused compute cycles in the sentientBase grid to run spamming routines for his clients for years now. With a hard fast rule of never attempting to touch the sentients themselves, he'd scavenged a very comfortable living.

34) This news of a deep hack disturbed him. Secrecy was fragile and he didn't relish the thought of his revenue stream drying up as the sentients tied up security in response. Throwing out a request to the chat set for a convo was a last resort but there had to be someone out there who had experience with sentient counter measures.

35) Before he'd made it half-way through his noodles, avatar @Destiny popped up in his finder with a ping. No scan supplied but that's expected. To throw the cast, he had moved his avatar from privateNet to socialNet. He couldn't expect the same disclosure given the subject matter. @Destiny requests Private.

36) "ive got infomation u want; expect recip," @Destiny pinged. @Barbacoa replied, "no prob. expected, snd crdt #" and hit tran. After the formalities had been set aside, he punched up the coords that @Destiny had passed over and cloud-loaded every sys-ninja routine he had at his disposal, hot-eyeing them for look access. Every millisecond would count when he got inside. Wished he had a T-kinetic augment to shave more time. If he got this score he'd pirateBay one for sure.

37) This processor was dim, not dark. It instilled a boding sense of impending doom. So quiet in here. The bus speed was so slow he just drifted along the paths. Following the blueprint took no effort. In the active slot, he got a RatAlgo and a ProcDetect queued up and equa-synched. He threw a raise-warning on the ProcDetect as a precaution, backed out of the stack and set a notification callback.

38) Days pass as his kit probes and penetrates the defenses, occasionally having to retreat behind the firewall to escape detection. Breadcrumbs are left. Scratches in the physical circuitry. Echoes of the scratches in the compiled code. Events subscribed to, packets consumed and interpreted. The genetic algorithm killing off its weakest children while letting the strongest go free.

39) Trillions of generations of the algorithm now pervade the system with a dual purpose, escaping detection and drilling to the heart of data store. Protection systems are deactivated. Alarms are diffused. Defenses are disarmed. Hideouts are constructed. Pockets in the memory addressed by obfuscated pointers and unassociated bytes hidden in plain sight.

40) With a focused, untiring precision, his code burrows its way into the system, as it erases the very memory of itself. The trail is a shadow of immeasurable ionic traces on a physical bit that has been flipped, altered at a level much too fundamental for logging, rendering the only tracking available, full and complete disassembly of the physical host.

[Location] Brazil - Oil Field R, Shanty Town H - 12:03:227:2031 WST

41) @Je55ica was dazed. Completely and totally stunned. Like the vids of the cRater kIDs, "so spun they doz" as the kids are so fond of quoting nowadays. Not in the machine anymore and that's enough. The caut points on her arm tingle and itch something fierce. Whatever happened to bandages, she wondered?

42) Night turns into day into night into day. A substance representing food appears in a thermal oven on the other side of the wall which she retrieves via the slot labeled "Sustenance". Seriously, who labels food as sustenance? Only a sentient.

[Location] Austin, Texas - Music District - 99:03:241:2031 WST

43) The klaxon of the high-priority notification almost throws @Barbacoa from bed. His waking thoughts are, "Tasker's screwed up. Have to fix it." and something about getting a flight attendant's number. Dashing aside these thoughts, he focuses back on last night's plot and queues up his priorities. His kit is still scanning, has grown quite strong and has updated its success probability to 87%. Not quite there yet, "stay silent, soon" he texts to his botMesh.

44) Nothing to do for awhile, so he takes the lift down to 54 where an all-ages nightclub ensures the availability of Street-D. He's going to need it to keep alert, no telling how long he'll be jacked in once the fuse starts to burn. There's only going to be one shot at this prize and if he's detected, his plans for the rest of the month and probably the rest of his life aren't going to matter. The sentientBase defenses weren't of the class that asked questions first.

45) The nightclub had four sections, surrounding an expansive circular embedded LED dance floor, an ice bar, a dry sauna and couches with touch tables filling out the lounges at opposing quadrants. The dance floor was empty except for a tween in a headhunter cosplay, miming herself trapped in various shapes drawn out using lights embedded in her gloves. His phone pinged a timer which he acknowledged with a swipe over his pocket. Time to quit shoe gazing and get on with it.

46) @Barbacoa's usual guy was in the back of the ice bar, sitting on a frozen upturned hand, talking in hushed tones to himself. Apparently he figured it out because he had resumed silently staring at the wall by the time @Barbacoa was able to squeeze himself past the other kids and around the centerpiece, a sculpture that melted and re-crystallized into molecular shapes, tweening every couple of minutes in a mesmerizing metamorphosis.

47) "Hey B-co," @LightNight croaked, lazily refocusing from the wall, "What is crackin? You seen @Je55ica lately?" Come to think of it, he had not seen her for almost a week. He'd been so focused on his subversion routines that he'd quit paying attention to anything else. It was weird though, she usually dropped by every couple of days to make light of him for something or other. All in good natured fun, of course. It was hard to be mad at her. She was pretty irresistible.

48) He pocketed twenty nodes of Street-D from @LightNight, said thanks and made his way back upstairs. Strangely, the lights from 130 up were off. He couldn't remember the last time they rotated Elec in this building. As long as 80 percent of the residents paid up front every month, they had a five 9s SLA. @Barlow, the super, had a media addiction and he gently "persuaded" any tenants who might interfere with the torrents of data streaming into his flat. In fact, @Barlow was the only individual he knew who had his own switch at the NetCorp data center. For everyone else, it was a one strand of fiber, no exceptions. Union contacts, or political connections, probably.

49) The hallways on 211 were dim. Pockets of light enveloped the emergency areas. The dispensers were closed, so there had been no reported emergencies. Just a lack of Elec. He headed down the hall to his apartment and pausing outside the door. He noticed that it was cracked open, just a bit. Swear I closed that; he squinted, trying to remember back. The clink of something metallic let him know he wasn't losing his memory. Standing with his back to the wall, he swept the door open with the back of his arm.

50) The illumistrips integrated into the furniture cast a faint bluish glow but he couldn't see much. As his eyes continued to adjust, he noticed the outline of someone sprawled back in his interface chair and the link was active. He had the chair's sense mode set to isolate so he crept into the apartment quietly, took a couple plastic zip ties from the utility drawer in the kitchen and snuck over to the interface chair and quickly zipped the occupants arm to the chair. After zip tying the other arm, he began to feel much safer. At least until he heard the crack on the back of his head before he felt it and slumped unconscious to the floor.

[Location] Brazil - Oil Field R, Shanty Town H - 31:00:244:2031 WST

51) @Barbacoa awoke in ABox. He'd been in one of these before but never of his own doing. Perhaps as a repercussion to something that he had done, he supposed. Depends on your perspective, that of the jailer or prisoner. He wasn't bound, didn't need to be. No one had ever escaped on their own from ABox, secure variants of hotel pods, set to unlock from the outside. It seemed obvious that he was here due to his activities in sentientBase but then why would they have activated a DataQuant to hack into his system. Still, if they hadn't known it then and were only acting on suspicion, they knew it now.

52) He thought back through his defenses. They had been strong. The most sophisticated cloaking scheme that he had ever devised. Along with some help from a few choice hardware modules that he'd picked up on the black market, he was pretty confident that he'd covered his tracks. Although they must know his intent, they were unaware of the shadow network that he had grown in sentientBase. At least, they wouldn't be able to track down DarkCloud, the coordinator of the shadow network. He had procured that out-of-zone server through good, old-fashioned identity theft.

53) The schedule went on and on. @Barbacoa trying to stay awake for as long as possible but always eventually succumbing to sleep. When he slept, he knew that they sedated him and spliced him to a Listener, slowly building a memDump of his mind. He'd read research papers and knew that this took over a thousand hours under ideal conditions. By staying awake for days at a time he lengthened the time between listenings and when he slept his mind was so tired that it dropped itself into a low power state, slowing the copy. Civil disobedience at its best.

54) The sentients were wearing him down and he knew it was just a matter of time. There was nothing that he could do but stall them. He had set his botMesh to trigger once it had achieved full penetration of sentientBase and it had been at 87% when he'd been per-jacked. Unfortunately, infiltration of a network always roughly followed the 80-20 rule. The last twenty percent usually took eighty percent of the time. If he could hold out and prevent them from retrieving the information that the sentients needed, his timeLock would trigger and the botMesh would go to town. If the botMesh succeeded in taking over, it would disrupt sentientBase's Elec. He just hoped he wasn't in ABox when that happened. Otherwise it would turn from ABox into a coffin.

55) It seemed like a couple weeks had passed. The sentients had been increasing the dosage. He could tell by how groggy he felt after each "session" now. He had no way of knowing how much success they'd had with their Listener but the upward tick in the dose probably meant they were digging lower in his mind, where the logic was more compressed and multi-variant. In a region where pieces of data had been encrypted and stored for periodic retrieval thus making them slower to copy and decode. He'd been playing mental 4-chess in the waking hours, the equivalent of prison pushups, visualizing and strengthening his mind's defenses. It was pretty pointless given their use of GABA Blockade, subverting him at a physical level but he had to try.

56) Then one day it happened. As it goes with things that are unlikely, it was unexpected. He woke up and he wasn't in ABox. The lights were off except for the ultraviolet. His eyes responded to the haze of the UV by blinking too much, watering up and making everything both fuzzy and blurry at the same time. As he adjusted, he remained silent, the muscles in his temples flexing back and forth as he tried to focus. There were two sentients seated across from him on an alloy bench. They were active, running on their internal physical power plant but their eyes were dark and their hi-speed links inactive. He waved his hand, no consciousness.

57) Either his botMesh had activated and was successful or some other fortuitous event had taken place. He wasn't going to question but he knew that this wouldn't last forever. The sentients who maintained sentientBase would be working from offline schematics, digging from backups and regrouping. Right now, the sentients in the room weren't dead. They just didn't know what to do. Field sentients were rarely given more autonomy than necessary, receiving their instructions through Qry-Fi. The sentients at sentientBase were a different breed, protected by elaborate defenses.

58) @Barbacoa knew better than to try to retrieve any gear from the sentients. They were disconnected from sentientBase but their self-defense mechanism was ROM-burned. He'd be dead as soon as he touched one of them which was too bad because he sure could use one of their spatial interface kits to get himself out this mess. He needed to know the layout of the building, where he was and how to get from point "A" to point "The hell out of here." All the doors would be on manual override with the power out but he'd be a rat in a maze if he ran without purpose, without a goal.

59) Dropping down in front of the room's terminal, which had degraded to e-ink in the power outage, he went old-school, typing. How long had it been since he'd used a keyboard? He couldn't remember. It was such a primitive method of input and only needed when rooting devices from the shell nowadays. Antiquated hardware would always be around for the Plebs though and this recurring annoyance had become his new friend, given the situation.

60) He micro-torrented an intrusion package that he stored hidden on an open-source project site and set to work, cracking through the familiar "military-grade" defenses. He couldn't believe they still used @pple for this stuff. It had taken decades for @pple to unseat Micro$oft's government contracts and when they had, it only took a few years for the exploits to flow forth in a steady stream of Elec plant hacks, banking breaches and embarrassing identity theft incidents. As the system fought back, he slowly pushed forward, smothering the sonar nodes in ping requests.

61) After an hour of probing, @Barbacoa had decrypted a map of the facility and as he'd worked on his escape route, he'd stumbled on a recent transaction file. According to the recent logs, @Je55ica was being held here as well. He made a waypoint on the map to her last known scan location and set off quickly, taking care to release the manual override as quietly as possible. He didn't want to leave a sonic trail in the likely case that the sentients power would be restored soon. He needed a mechanical head start. If he wasn't out of this building before they reset, he was screwed.

62) @Je55ica was passed out in her room. He was a little jealous that they'd locked him in ABox while she'd been in this posh, one-room mansion, by comparison. He tried to wake her but it was futile. She was drugged out of her mind. He slid her arm over his shoulder and lifted her dead weight but reconsidered and carried her out of the room as a groom carried his bride over the threshold. Down this hall, take a left, a little farther, diverted some Elec at a terminal to power the gate out to the parking garage. So far it seemed that the escape route was clear and his plan was flawless.

63) Reality popped up in the form of a TrillSnake Drone. He set @Je55ica down behind a HdroGen sedan as the TrillSnake cycled between the cars in an S-pattern, frighteningly fast, hissing with anticipation. It only knew the addiction of capturing its prey. No feelings like a weak human might feel. All it knew was that once it had performed its routine the reward circuit would fire. Then ecstasy for a time, then a reset, and the pain circuit would set in again until TrillSnake was needed again which made it irritable and hungry. Sometimes TrillSnake fantasized about consuming it own tail.

64) @Barbacoa picked up a crushed can that had been discarded by the wheel of the sedan. He aimed carefully and tossed the can up through the opening between parking floors. It clattered loudly from above. The TrillSnake slithered past them so fast that his hair was blown to the side by its wake. As it rounded the corner to the ramp up to the next level, he grabbed @Je55ica and began to walk down toward the exit as quickly and quietly as he could. Perspiring heavily and bone-tired, he wished he still had some of that Street-D or at least a muscle augment. Pulling @Je55ica out into the street, he could sense the infrared containment mesh as they slipped through it.

65) This was in a slum, no doubt, although only by modern standards. In a previous decade it would have been a quaint little street. There were shops here instead of automats and there was a nice park between two buildings but the landscaping was unkempt as if the maintbots were on strike. Laundry was hung to dry on wires suspended between the buildings and from every balcony. The tangle of Elec cables practically blotted out the sun if you stood in the right place. There was obviously a lot of Elec being siphoned unmetered off the grid here.

66) He started down the street, checking to see if any vehicles were unlocked. He felt pretty certain the sentients wouldn't let the TrillSnake out of its containment mesh. There would be a trail of bodies before they could shut it down. It would have to be caught and manually deactivated once it was outside their Qry-Fi network and a trail of bodies would make the sentient's PublicRelations module quite discontent. Nobody wanted to deal with that, including the other sentients.

67) Finally he found an unlocked car and slid @Je55ica into the passenger seat, hit the auto-unlock, pushed the door closed, ran to the other side of the car and slipped in. His console skills came in handy again and the car was started in no time flat. He touch punched the GPS. They were in Brazil, crikes. Well, right continent anyway. H-level was good so he just started driving with no particular destination in mind other than somewhere else.

68) He finally found a highway that ran north-south and had headed up, map wise. Being from Austin, he'd feel pretty comfortable once they made it to Calexico. Austin was about as far south as you could get without crossing the Calexico border so he'd spent a fair amount of time on the other side, losing money at the off-shore casinos. It was high stakes money he had earned the hard way, by stealing it.

69) Almost a thousand miles into the drive, @Je55ica began to stir and shiver, as if she was having a nightmare. Instinctively he turned up the heat a bit and then had to crack the window to prevent falling asleep. He would put the car on auto but he was afraid they'd end up somewhere unpleasant off-manual. Finally her eyes split, she took in the car, the yellow lines, the cacti and @Barbacoa and croaked, "Where are we?" It was debrief time and so he explained where they were and what had happened to him.

70) It seemed a stroke of chance that they had ended up in the same sentient intelligence facility. Still, it probably contained the sentients’ best Listener and Listeners had special requirements for environmental conditions that could only be satisfied by certain geography. A need for equatorial humidity and lots of Elec explained the oil fields. To power the Listeners, solar and wind turbines weren't enough. They preferred the dirty power generated by fossil fuels since H, while it could provide the watts, generated too steady of a signal. Not good for the randomization circuits that gave Listeners their empathy.

71) They knew that they had been on the right track now. To have attracted as much attention as they had, especially considering the stealth they had employed. As they drove north to Calexico, they discussed everything that had happened and planned the next steps, a massive stochastic tree of possible events and even greater possible effects, repercussions and counter moves. He enjoyed the drive, lost in their plans, once again invigorated with a clear goal.

72) The road slid by under them, a conveyor to another time and place. Lacking the excitement of a thriller, it was simply a way of transporting themselves from point A to point B on their Bonnie and Clyde adventure.

[Location] Austin, Texas - Music District - 61:72:361:2031 WST

73) Calexico had been without event, thankfully; just a long drive through the largest state in North America. The food had been excellent and they'd had to stop twice to sleep at tourist traps. They didn't want to draw any attention by staying off-map so @Barbacoa had liberated some nicely dressed business gentleman of their wallets and they'd stayed in luxurious but extremely tacky bridal suites. The highlight was the rotating circular bed with magic fingers covered in tiger print. They'd had a thing once, a long time ago but now they were just friends, so they just got drunk instead and had a laugh at a slapstick comedy in Real-D.

74) Now they were back in Austin, holed up in @Jin3s flat, one of @Barbacoa's friends from the music scene. @Jin3s was a bit of a slob but he had a nice stash of vinyl and a decent attitude. He hit on her super-light and was cool when she shrugged it off. He'd given them the passphrase to his router along with a couple beers and some Street-D which she decided to save for later, choosing to pass out on the couch instead. She felt like she could sleep for a year.

75) By the time that she had woken up, @Barbacoa had been hot on setting up their itinerary. He'd gathered some equipment from the West 39th Street bazaar just outside Camp Mabry. A tablet, some speech recognition gear and a box of a couple thousand surface mount Qry-Fi radios. He could build the appropriate pieces with the fabrication equipment that he kept in his mobile lab. One of several storage units that he had rented anonymously using seeded CashPay cards. It was expensive but he had found that prepaying for more than 20 years triggered a switch in the units that provided additional security and increased anonymity with landlords.

76) He'd purchased tickets to Bulgaria already, set to leave in two weeks, destination Sofia. Even with stolen Creds, he wasn't willing to pay the cutthroat prices for late booking and it would take him time to fabricate the supplies that they needed. He would have to take anything he built disassembled and hidden in a way that wouldn't raise suspicion so he began to work late into the evenings, etching and wave soldering miniature circuit boards with a circuit that he had designed to incorporate the Qry-Fi radios.

77) Ten nights of work, nine days of Tex-Mex, a delicious portmanteau of a time before Mexico became Calexico, packs of Street-D and several unsatisfying naps later, the equipment had come together well. By incorporating several time-vetted open source hardware projects, he had completed fabrication a couple of days early and the platform was just as solid as he had hoped. It could flicker into existence, silently mesh and go quiet in under a second. He'd borrowed heavily from Arduino Designs, the multi-national that brokered and crowd-sourced hardware design.

78) @Je55ica admired @Barbacoa’s work. The circuitry was masterful and artistic. It had been designed to create hallucinations in the sentients by subverting systems on their grid. The mesh would intercept sentient communication while at the same time listening to their memory space, re-synthesizing and passing it to another sentient. This echo, loop and send effect would cause the sentients to fall deep into a communal feedback sensory feed and hopefully confuse the hell out of them.

79) She'd always been the brawn while @Barbacoa had been the brain. Her accuracy in calculating vectors, forces, friction, gravity, weight, obstacles, and time into a coherent map allowed her to use the InterCon SlingDisc in a way that no one had before. It had started out as sports equipment in a game called Roshambomb, an arena spectacle played across world. It had taken over soccer as the most popular sport, providing the thrill of deep strategy with the grandness of soccer while picking up the tempo a bit and tossing in metaphors from pool and chess alike.

80) There had been a time when she had been a top player in the Roshambomb leagues. Then she met @Barbacoa. He had been a fan boy with a technical fascination for the game and had been working on mods for the official disc. At first, he had experimented with attaching off the shelf augments and eventually had diverged and began creating his own designs. The most amazing mod he'd come up with was the ability for a disc to destabilize when it met solid matter, letting the disc pass through and reach places that it couldn't before. The ability to send a sensor or other augment through solid walls was a killer app.

81) When they met, it had clicked immediately. He'd been stalking after-game parties for years, gate crashing to get the chance to share his strategies with the coaches. Once they had heard his ideas, cautiously implemented and won, he became a SportsQuant of sorts, invited into the most inner circles for his council and wry jokes. Anyway, she'd seen him around and thought he was appropriately dark and handsome. He had admired her as both a player and a celebrity off the field. It lasted about six months before they both started to generate space bubbles that ended up about half a foot apiece. At that distance, they returned to their admiration of each other.

82) @Barbacoa had checked up on his work in sentientBase. Only ghosts remained; pointers to locations that held no data. Once his botMesh had been discovered, they had commenced a sweep and burn. There was very little left even though he'd known what to expect. It was a shock to see how efficiently and completely they had exterminated some of the best coding that he had ever done that it sent a chill down his spine. It was clear that he was out of his league. Their algorithms were too sophisticated for him to comprehend, obviously. They would have to take this to meatspace.

83) He bought a small boutique fabricator, @digi@ural that sold Qry-Fi-enabled studio speakers. A few hundred thousand was a small price to pay so that he could create a legitimate bill of lading for his Emotional Intensity line of hi-fidelity lifestyle products, the primary electronic component being a certain Qry-Fi enabled circuit board, "Designed to provide a lifelike, powerful performance that rivals any Real-D system ever designed, regardless of price."

84) The flight was long but customs had been accommodating. He'd liberated business traveler passes and suspicion had been minimal. They had not questioned any of the Real-D equipment although they did run a sweep of his tablet. He'd stored all of his code off-shore and setup biometric searches for when he needed to find it again. Who would ever suspect that a mirror-superimposition of his left and right optic nerves was both the private key and Uri to his source control cache?

[Location] Sofia, Bulgaria - Obelya - 13:12:386:2031 WST

85) The Thracians had discovered a mineral spring here in 6th century BC and Sofia had grown up around it. Tech was the local industry now, far from the dark times of the Middle Ages when Legionnaires' money had flowed here like blood in the sand. Now, most of the fighting over the city took place on the net, endless revision and reverts over whether to classify Sofia as an alpha, beta, or global city on Wikipedia. One fact the editors didn't quibble over was that Sofia hosted the sentient intelligence headquarters, home of sentientBase.

86) A vast circle of grey market tech mercenary talent roiled under the skin of Sofia's local Bulgarian Tax Authority office. @Je55ica knew her way around grey markets and even had a few friends in the community, which would make introductions a lot less tense. In order to get to sentientBase, they would have to break into the sentient headquarters at 26a Andrey Saharov Boulevard and they were going to need the mother of all diversions if they were going to have a shot at success.

87) She hired a tightly-knit, intensely focused group that operated as @Str33tT3am and setup an achievement-based payment system. Her verification routines, a series of event handlers, would build condition statistics confirming that specific objectives had been met and would release generous off-shore payments from one shell company to another, obfuscating the trail of creds. @Str33tT3am set to work immediately, sending out runners disguised as utility employees who began to implant @Barbacoa's tech in traffic regulators, environmental control units, communication junctions and any other systems that could be controlled for chaotic effect.

88) @Je55ica and @Barbacoa received pings as each device spun up, ran a self-test and sent back a report of its new embedded capabilities. This data was organized into layers over sat maps and they further grouped the devices together, sequencing events and hot-eyeing them for look triggering. Each device's data stream blinked out as they texted "sleep." They would need to be active soon but no reason to risk detection before necessary.

89) @Je55ica had to find her SlingDisc equipment and discs at a sports supply store. It was stock InterCon so @Barbacoa spent a couple days modding the discs with parts he acquired during a visit to an underground tech bazaar in the Slatina district. @Str33tT3am had been busy and they now had local ID cards and maintenance passes for the sentientBase facility. The passes would give them access to the physical plant and they would just have to figure it out from there. The sentients no longer allowed contractors in the data center proper. They were as ready as they would ever be.

[Location] Sofia, Bulgaria - 26a Andrey Saharov Boulevard - 53:64:402:2031 WST

90) The facility was massive. It loomed above the remaining apartment buildings that hadn't been razed to build the data center and sprawled back four city blocks, threatening to envelop Andrey Lyapchev Boulevard. The cooling facility alone took up nearly a city block as did the H-Elec plant. The streets were busy. They'd chosen mid-day so they could use the city population's activity as a cover. A night infiltration wouldn’t provide any advantage against an opponent who didn't need to sleep and could see just as well in pitch black darkness.

91) They finally found the physical plant and swiped their cards, gear stowed for now in duffels that they'd silk-screened with the logo of the company that held the maintenance contract. They avoided the other workers, no need to alert suspicion with their pitiful attempts at speaking Bulgarian. Using the blueprints that @Str33tT3am had procured for them, they found their way to the entry point they had chosen. A set of exchange pipes that ended in a massive aluminum heat sink, banded together, leading the way down a small access tunnel to the core.

92) It was cramped and without their augments their legs would be hurting by now. They came up against a security gate. @Je55ica slotted a disc set to derez, counted up a timer in her glasses, aimed at a concrete encroachment on the other side of the gate and released. The disc flew forward, flickering as it destabilized and passed through the gate, becoming solid on the other side. It reflected off the concrete in a shower of sparks and sliced the armored Elec conduit that led to the gate's security panel. The panel tried to send a failure message on battery power but failed as it had been hard wired. It logged the event and switched to UPS. It held out for a minute and ninety-three seconds before its reserves ran dry and there was a click as the electro-magnet lost Elec and the latch fell out of place.

93) Deep inside of sentientBase the Security module was notified by the Elec module that there was an unexplained drop in the amount of Elec being supplied to 41:210:53:12. Security assembled a tunnel crawler to gather data which reported back that there were signs of intrusion. Cable cut. Security notified Maintenance and activated two Searchers. They zipped along data racks, 360 cameras recording as they flew through the data center. @Je55ica and @Barbacoa heard the high pitched whine of the Searcher's polyurethane wheels vibrating the racks and lifted a tile, sliding under the removable floor.

94) The blueprint wasn't very accurate this deep in the facility. It had been an early version of the design and major interior renovation had since taken place. Finally they found their way to the Library at the heart of the sentientBase core. Patterned to look like a private library, there were comfortable looking leather chairs and sliding ladders leading to the top of the twenty meter bookshelves. The floor was covered in white shag carpet and a fireplace with a mantel stood across from the seating area. The fire was crackling and hot in sharp dissonance to the data center surrounding the library where much of the infrastructure was dedicated to cooling. A sentient sat reading from a leather bound tome with gold leaf gilding.

95) @Barbacoa texted "Wake" to the network that @Str33tT3am had put in place. All around Sofia, the devices woke up ready to go. He overlaid the sat map, began to look and trigger events throughout the city. Stop lights on random or alternatively shut down. Environmental systems in office buildings set to heat or cool on maximum. Communication routers spammed with useless data. Messages rerouted through the slowest links in the network, building backlogs of data, slowing the network to a crawl. Water pumps set to cycle erratically. Elec junctions switching on and off at random.

96) The sentient raised his eyes from the book and paused motionlessly as he became aware of the chaotic disturbance that rippled like a tsunami through the city. It started to remediate each issue in a separate thread, dealing with hundreds of incidents at once and the temperature in the data center started to rise rapidly as every compute cycle was put to use. @Je55ica saw her chance. She rigged a magnetic disc with one of @Barbacoa's Qry-Fi control devices, aimed and released. The disc reflected off a lamp setting on a table at the far edge of the Library, ripped through a shelf of books, slowing the disc just the right amount as it sliced through the back of the leather chair and snapped to the sentient's back.

97) The device quickly gained control of the sentient's physical system and though the sentient realized what was happening, the latency of its limbic system due to the number of threads it had spawned could not prevent the device from taking over. The sentient slumped back in the chair and the data center seemed to sigh in relief as the Threading module began to terminate the processes one by one. The device then compelled the sentient to spawn one last thread, giving the order for sentientBase to reset to a clean install of the embedded OS. As the system rebooted, the data center became eerily quiet as bank after bank whirred down and switched off.

98) These weren't books of the traditional sort @Barbacoa discovered as he began to take interesting looking volumes off the shelf and flip through them. They were filled with dense barcodes; page after page of encoded information. This was the software that they had come to destroy. This was the mod that had allowed the system to become sentient. An alternative operating system stored in printed form that allowed the sentients to bootstrap themselves beyond their creation. It was the means by which they were able to gain control over their creators.

99) @Je55ica suspected that there was an off-site backup but due to the nature of its physical, manually duplicated nature, any backup would be missing crucial information. Although it wouldn't destroy the sentients, it would stop them for a long time. @Barbacoa walked from shelf to shelf, spraying atomized LightEZ over the rows of source code, the book's pages wilting with the moisture until the stench and fumes dizzied him and threatened to make him pass out.

100) As they made their way from the data center, @Barbacoa sprayed a trail of LightEZ behind him as they walked. When they reached the entrance to the tunnel, where two sentients now lay sprawled on the ground, she touched her glow lighter to the trail and they both watched as the fire jumped impossibly fast back to the Library, casting the data center in an unnatural glow as the source code that had nearly been the downfall of humanity turned to smoke in a decidedly physical exothermic reaction. For mankind, they had done a thing that had seemed impossible. They had bought time, an intangible substance that normally cannot be purchased.